Shreveport native Robert Parish was the calm, collected, confident center on the Boston Celtics NBA championship teams in the 1980s.
Robert Parish, respectfully nicknamed “The Chief,” emerged from unheralded Centenary College in his hometown of Shreveport to enjoy a record-setting career as a center in the National Basketball Association (NBA). At seven-feet, one-inch tall, Parish was an imposing presence for the Boston Celtics teams that won three championships in the 1980s. After twenty-one seasons in the NBA, he retired at age forty-three having played more games than anyone else in league history.
Parish was born on August 20, 1953. After a stellar career at Shreveport’s Woodlawn High School, Parish passed over big-name collegiate programs in favor of tiny Centenary College. With him as their leader, the feisty Gents, to the shock of the basketball world, reached dizzying heights. “It was a statement that many student-athletes have made by staying in-state to attend Louisiana Tech and LSU, but it was a particularly strong statement at the time for him because it was his hometown school and it was Centenary, which has always been much smaller than those others,” Centenary head coach Adam Walsh told Louisiana Life magazine in 2012. “At the time of his decision, Robert’s choice made waves throughout college basketball and ultimately propelled the Gents into the Top 25 in the country.”
Parish was picked in the first round of the 1976 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors, but it was when he was traded to the Celtics in 1980 that his pro career really took off. At center, Parish was stationed between forwards and fellow Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Kevin McHale to form one of the most formidable and successful front lines in professional basketball history.
Athough he didn’t put up spectacular numbers like other great centers, such as Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Pettit—Parish averaged 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game over his career—he played the steady, vital role of offensive and defensive anchor on Boston teams that won NBA crowns in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Teammate Cedric Maxwell nicknamed him “The Chief” after the tall, stoic character Chief Bromden in Parish’s favorite movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Parish also distinguished himself through his career longevity, playing in 1,611 games spanning twenty-one seasons. He became the third-oldest player in league history to win a championship when he earned his fourth ring in 1997 with the Chicago Bulls. He retired in 1997; less than a year later, the Celtics retired his iconic No. 00 jersey. He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Although he rounded out his career with other teams via free agency, Parish remained devoted to the Celtics and the city of Boston, which continues to embrace him as a legendary figure. “I will always be a Celtic at heart,” Parish told NBA.com. “That’s where my career took off.”